Shiana/Chapter 19

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CHAPTER XIX.

CORMAC RETURNS TO THE CITY.

Dermot was not in the doorway before them. The door was shut. They opened it and went in. They saw neither Sive nor Dermot. There was a strange old woman sitting near the fire. She raised her head and looked at them, and she bent it again without speaking. They knew her. She was a neighbour. Deaf Poll was the name she was called; still she was not so very deaf, but she was very slow.

"Where is the man of the house, Poll?" said Cormac.

"He is not very well," said she, slowly.

"Is he in bed?" said Cormac.

"He is," said she, "and Art's daughter Mary is taking care of him."

Just then the nurse opened the room door.

"You are welcome," said she.

"What ails this man, Mary?" said Cormac.

"I fear, Cormac," said she, "that he has got a little attack of fever—God bless the hearers! He fell sick the day after the fair, when he found Sive gone. When the priest heard of the dreadful doings of those thieves at the fair he came here himself, and when he found Dermot sick and no one here to give him a drink, he sent for me, and I came."

"Might we go in to see him? " said Shiana.

"Oh, certainly, certainly," said she. Cormac was already within, without leave.

Sheila.—I would not doubt him!

Peg.—"How goes it, Dermot?" said Cormac.

"Ask something else!" said Dermot. "Where did you leave her?" said he. "Did he take her from you? You are a good-for-nothing man to let her go with him."

"He has been like that since I came," said the nurse. "His tongue never rests; he is always talking."

"Do you know me, Dermot?" said Shiana.

"Do I know you! It is as right for me to know you as it is for you to know me. It is as right for you to know me as it is for me to know you. It is as right for me to know you as it is for you to know me——" He went on in that way repeating the same words over and over, and taking care to invert their order alternately, and whenever he happened to miss any word or not to make the inversion exactly in order, he went back upon the expressions until he satisfied his mind that they were in order as he wished them. Then he would quicken his speech as if he had laid a wager as to how many times he could repeat the words without drawing breath. He would strain himself so much that you would think he would choke himself for want of breath. After a while he ceased from those rushings of speech, and looked over into the corner of the room.

"It is a shame for you all," said he. "There is that poor man over yonder with his head bursting with pain and none of you would look after him."

Sheila.—Who was he, Peg?
Peg.—There was nobody there, Sheila. The poor man was only raving.
Kate.—I suppose it was in his own head the pain was.
Peg.—In his own head, of course.
Kate.—Indeed, I saw our James in that same way long ago, when he had the sore finger. It was his left thumb that was sore. He was raving with the violence of the pain, and he used to be calling my mother and Nell, and asking them to "look after that little boy yonder in the corner, for that he had a very sore thumb."
Nora.—Well then, Peg.

Peg.—They remained a long time listening to him, but they failed to get any sensible talk out of him.

"What do you think of him, Mary?" said Shiana to the nurse.

"I don't think he is in danger," said she. "It is a good sign of the illness that the raving is so lively. I have not noticed any torpor upon him. He suffers from thirst, but not very much, and I am giving him good two-milks' whey."

They came out of the room.

"Is there any account of Sive," said Shiana, "or does anyone know in what direction she has gone?"

"No one but Poll, here, saw her going," said the nurse. "Poll was out at dawn on the morning after the fair. The conduct of the thieves and the contusion that followed it had given the poor woman a disturbed night. She was sitting outside the door of her cabin at the grey dawn. She saw a woman leave this house; she was bent forward; she had the hood of her cloak on her head. Where should she face but toward the cabin, not expecting that Poll would be up so early. She did not see Poll until she was close up to her. They looked at each other. Neither of them spoke. Poll seldom speaks unless she is spoken to, and she is not very quick at it even then. Sive passed on along the road to the north-east, bending forward for speed. It was the Dublin road. No one has seen her since, dead or alive, and I have not heard that any one else saw her that morning except Poll here."

"Why did you not speak to her, Poll?" said Cormac.

"Indeed, I don't know," said Poll, slowly.

"As sure as there is a ferrule on a tramp's stick," said Cormac, "it is in pursuit of that Sheeghy she is gone—and it is not through love of him, nor for his welfare. Many a clever trick he has played during his life, but I give him my hand and word that the trick he played upon Sive on the fair day is the sorest trick to him that he ever played. If it is in pursuit of him she has gone,—and it is—if he were to go into an auger-hole to hide from her, it won't do him any good. She will come up with him and put a narrow necktie on him as sure as he has a throat. Cut off my ear from my head if she doesn't. I think if he had known what sort she is he would have passed her by. It is too late for him now."

"Nonsense, Cormac, nonsense!" said the nurse. "Don't be making yourself ridiculous. What business would Sive have in Dublin? What could she do there? Whom does she know there? How would she find her way through that city, she that was never within a hundred miles of it? Whereas there is not even a rat-hole in any part of the city which that fellow is not acquainted with. Believe me if he finds her in pursuit of him, either he or some one of his gang will very soon put an end to her—if it is in that direction she has gone, which indeed I suppose it is not, of course."

"Wait awhile," said Cormac. "No other purpose would take her from home but to hunt that fellow down and bring him to justice. I don't think that within living memory there has been anything done that was so hateful or so mean or so unjust as the act that he did against her and her father. She would rather be cut into small bits than let it go with him unpunished,—and small blame to her."

"Why, then, man alive, if you are so thoroughly convinced that she is gone off with that intention, why don't you rush off at once and follow her?" said the nurse.

"So I will, never you fear," said he. "I only wanted to know exactly in what direction she had gone. I suppose you will stay here until this man is recovering, or at least out of danger?"

"Yes," said she, "I will; the priest told me to stay."

"And you, Shiana," said he, "if you are not very busy would it not be as well for you to come with me?"

"It is not necessary," said Shiana. "There are enough of yourselves."

"I know," said Cormac, "that the King's men would like to make your acquaintance, and perhaps it might be easy there for you to find a way of living which would be more profitable than shoemaking."

"The shoemaking will do for another while," said Shiana.

"Well! God give you all a good day!" said Cormac. "I have a quick start of it again, without as much as taking the road-dust off my shoes. What a pity I have not all the rascally thieves in Ireland in one rope and on one gallows! What a squeeze I would give them! We would have peace then for a time."

"You would have a large sheaf!" said the nurse.

Sheila.—Dear me, Peg, didn't he remember the bribe?
Peg.—What bribe, Sheila dear?
Sheila.—The bribe he consented to take for the widow's house that time when he was going to evict her, and she had not the rent, until Shiana gave it to her.
Peg.—I don't know, Sheila. People often have a bad memory for a thing which they do not wish to keep in mind.
Sheila.—He ought to have been ashamed.
Peg.—It is people without shame that can most easily do what suits them.
Sheila.—Perhaps so. But I do not admire them, those people without shame. It would have become him far better to have kept silent, and not to have been doing the "white cat's abstinence" about dishonesty.
Abbie.—He was just like that man in Killarney who was going into the fight. He had a big thick nose, just as Cormac had. People used to call him Bachall[1] on account of the nose. His father called out to him just as he was entering the fight: "Donald, my boy," said the father, "make haste and call some fellow Bachall before anyone shall have had time to call you so." That was the way with Cormac. He thought the best way in which he could escape the reproach of dishonesty was by calling some one else a thief.
Sheila.—Indeed, Peg, that would not save him. Couldn't he be called the name afterwards as well as if he had not called anybody else by it?
Peg.—I suppose he considered it a great matter to have the first of it, to fire the first shot, and not to be down at the first gap. And what would people say but that surely he had no dread of the name, for if he had he would not be so ready to mention it.
Kate.—I suppose that was the way with little Denis when he stole James's knife. There was nobody so energetic in the search for the knife as he was himself, and he had it in his pocket, the little wretch!
Sheila.—How was it found, Kate?
Kate.—It was I that noticed it in his pocket. He had the pocket hanging outside his coat like a little worm-bag. I laid my hand on the little bag, and the knife was inside it.
Sheila.—The poor fellow! what a start you gave him!
Kate.—You may say I did. He turned every colour and began to cry.
Sheila.—Was he sent away?
Kate.—No. Nell defended him. She said that some one must have put the knife into the pocket without his knowledge, for fun, and my father said she was right.
Abbie.—He thought that by pretending to search for it earnestly there would be no danger of his being suspected. Wasn't he clever?
Peg.—Well, he was only a child, Abbie. He had no sense, and I dare say the knife was not worth much.
Kate.—No, it wasn't; and what James did then was to make him a present of it, and I was mad at his doing it. I'd rather throw it into the fire than give it to him, after his doing his little bit of deceit so shrewdly. Small as the knife was, perhaps, if he had succeeded, the suspicion of it might have fallen on some one else, and then see what a nice piece of work he would have done.
Peg.—You are right there, Kate. "The effect of a wrong act extends very far."
Abbie.—Well now, Peg, go on with the story. These people would keep you there till to-morrow morning talking and arguing and disputing and discussing.
Nora.—Indeed, Abbie, you were not without your share of the discussion; you did not let it go with them altogether.
Peg.—Cormac went off again, "without taking the road-dust off his shoes," as he said. When he had gone off, Shiana went back again into the room where the sick man was.

"What a long time you have been about coming!" said Dermot. "It's the match from November till May you have made of it. Half the country would have been married while you have been at it. Where is she now? She was there just a moment ago. 'A wife is better than a fortune.' A quiet, sensible girl, if you don't make her angry. Oh! fie! don't strike! confound you, don't strike! Look at that!"

"Is there any money in the house? " said Shiana to the nurse.

"Not a brown halfpenny," said she.

"Here," said he, "I got some leather from him a few days ago. It is as well for me to pay for it now," and he handed her some money.

  1. baċall, a knob; esp. the knob on the top of a stick.